Monday, November 12, 2012
The Promise of Yoga
So much happens inside of the yoga studio. As a practicing yogi, I think I get the idea: I unroll my mat, sit in a comfortable cross legged position, gently touch my tongue to the roof of my mouth (slightly grazing the back of my two top front teeth), and engage in Ujjayi Pranayama (also know as: deep breathing). As the class begins to flow, we are a collective symphony. I stretch my limbs and move my body, holding poses for many, many rounds of breaths. Sometimes, we practice to the sound of rhythmic chanting. Other times, we are inspired to have fun and go wild, practicing to the pulses of a Lil' Wayne or Madonna top-40 hit (anything is possible).
As my breathing becomes oceanic, I picture myself fathoms below sea-level, imagining -- no, believing -- I can take myself anywhere and withstand any discomfort, simply by relying on my breath. I sweat, I move faster, I find my body more limber. I twist, I fold, I back bend, I go upside down. I lose my balance, my mind drifts, I think about what's for dinner. I remember why I was sad when I woke up that morning. I look forward to my next vacation. We come down to our mats and cool down, letting our bodies slowly melt into the earth. We offer thanks, dedicate our practice to a loved one in need, we set intentions.
I often feel hesitant going into class, given how vulnerable and naked the practice of yoga can often make me feel. Why open myself up to feelings of stress, self-loathing, or, even worse, memories from the past? I've often felt anxious in certain poses that physically turn my back to the world (child's pose or pigeon pose, where we hide our faces into the earth). As if lost in a dark woods, I'm fearful of what's behind me.
In moments of frustration, I've felt tension only to discover I'm grinding my teeth or looking around the room. I compare myself to others. I wonder why the teacher is making us do my least favorite poses. I look at the clock. I'm disjointed when my mat slides around. I'm jolted when my sweat prevents me from doing certain poses that require a steady hand on a shin or a sturdy wrap and bind. I try to hold myself up, and I find myself slipping.
Well there it is. That is life. How do we react when this daily problem occurs: we try to hold ourselves up but we are confronted with conflict? We try, we see others doing it better, but no: we are spiraling, slipping, losing. Yoga is a physical practice, but yoga is also your life. The majority of the time, I feel safe on my yoga mat. Even if I'm exhausted or having a bad day, I can retreat to a passive pose and let the guidance of my teacher lend me comfort and strength. Where is this action in life? Where is this safety?
I don't have all the answers, but I noticed something recently. It is true: I have never left a yoga class unfulfilled. I've never left feeling anything but elated, healthy, happy, free, confident, on-top-of-the-world. Thoughtful, too. Like I said earlier, it hasn't always been that way going into a yoga class. It's often like pulling teeth, dragging myself to a 90 minute yoga class. Remember the nakedness? The vulnerability? And yet...
For two years, I've found myself hooked onto an early morning yoga class. Before work, before traffic, before the commute, before interacting with the day. Waking up early can be a challenge (especially with a late night prior, creating less hours of sleep than I would prefer) but in general it's the promise of yoga that gets me out of bed. No kicking and screaming, just a soft float. It's the walk into the studio, the "checking in" at the front desk, the knocking off of my shoes, the filling up of my bottle bottle with cold, nourishing water. It's my teacher's ear-to-ear grin, smiling as she greets me at the door. It's the promise that no matter what happens today, I am loved because I love this practice.
That is also life, right? We are loved because we love.
So much happens in a yoga studio. The class, the breathing, the mats, the music, the teacher. It's what happens outside of the studio that puts us to the test. Can I practice a calm and silent nature in times of conflict? Can I sit in traffic with as much ease as when I sit on my mat, meditating for a whole 5 minutes. The whole 5 minutes often feel like a lifetime. In yogi terms, it is. It's yogi's choice how we chose to live it.